Post-traumatic stress isn’t a disorder, it’s life

Mon., March 2, 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD as it is known, is supposedly rampant. Although the label should be used only for extreme cases, PTSD is mentioned casually and frequently. It is indeed a story of the moment.

There is always a story of the moment. It rises and crests, and then attention turns elsewhere, having occupied busy minds without sparking new insights or creating permanent help.

The suffering of people who are said to have PTSD, such as firefighters and the homeless, is not a disorder, it’s normal, writes Heather Mallick.
The suffering of people who are said to have PTSD, such as firefighters and the homeless, is not a disorder, it’s normal, writes Heather Mallick.

Post-9/11, books with “American” in the title had a sales boost, so for a decade books listed alphabetically crowded into the A section. At various times, with occasional flashbacks, we have been bombarded with fringe medical cases, misery memoirs, tales of tidying and discarding, breast cancer, veganism (a form of tidying), Generation Z anger, and now aging and death (boomers are aging and dying).

But PTSD, on the other hand, keeps rolling along because it has a crisp abbreviation and seems to explain so much when it really only begins to explain. It’s so handy.

PTSD is a psychiatric diagnosis for some people who have seen or experienced terrible trauma, often in the course of their job. Allegedly 9.2 per cent of Canadians (but only 3.5 per cent of Americans, which seems implausible) will suffer it in their lifetime, with women being diagnosed twice as much as men.

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As with COVID-19, amorphous conditions tend to breed unreliable numbers. The disorder is allegedly worsened by a lack of social support and life explosions, like job loss or divorce. But isn’t everything?

PTSD causes nightmares and flashbacks. According to Veterans Affairs Canada, sufferers think negatively, feeling irrational fear, anger, guilt and shame. They live on permanent edge, leaving them irritable, numb, emotionally distant and unable to sleep. They may often feel like something terrible is about to happen, even when they are safe.

Here is where I part company with the very idea of PTSD, as opposed to PTS. I do not think such reactions are a disorder. Instead, they are the reactions of any sane person to a horrible event outside their control. The last two sentences of the previous paragraph are a crisp description of how most Canadians feel about Donald Trump being the American president, or how I feel in a large grocery store. Call it PTSR, post-traumatic stress reaction.

There is such a thing as the over-medicalization of life, with people being misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed in tandem with the view that says traumatized people should toughen up, get a grip, and just do their job. But they can’t because they’re traumatized. The “disorder” is a sane and understandable response.

Look at the people said to suffer PTSD: dispatchers, nurses, police, firefighters, jail guards, rape victims, jurors, homeless LGBTQ people, prisoners, gig workers, stabbing victims, women in rural work camps who can’t escape their rapist, the overworked, those worried by climate change, older people isolated by storms, prosecutors in the Flint, Mich., water poison case, and migrant parents who had their children taken at the U.S. border.

I believe them. Those jobs can wreck people. I won’t mock them by saying they suffer from a disorder. No, they suffer from being rape victims, police, firefighters, nurses, migrants whose children were stolen, etc.

Psychiatry helps, but it can also distort. The word “stigma” is overused — in a particular situation, anything can be stigmatized — but why call coping with life a psychiatric condition? It’s a condition, surely, but a normal one.

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PTSD can be used like an elastic band, stretched far beyond its meaning. When an Edmonton man, Silva Koshwal, claimed PTSD flashbacks in 2015 caused him to stab his ex-girlfriend to death, remove her heart, ovaries and uterus, and nail that heart to the wall, well, no.

Airplane passengers say PTSD requires the company of their emotional support animal, but can’t provide a psychiatrist’s letter, not even to over-medicalize their natural stressed state.

Here we sit, with the planet baking and COVID-19 hoping to travel to Canada and stay in the cheap Airbnbs that are our lungs. That is stressful, which is normal. What if you come down with the coronavirus? What name should we give that kind of stress? Perhaps PTS-19 would cover it.

Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick

How Cold Water Can Treat Depression, PTSD, and Improve Overall Mental Health

This guest post comes courtesy of Justin Faraday; blogger, health and nutrition enthusiast, and a survivor of trauma.

“As far as my health is concerned, Justin writes…I definitely didn’t win the genetic lottery. I’ve struggled with a variety of medical issues since I was young, and spent my childhood and first decade of adulthood wandering through a fog of stress and discomfort. I was anxiety-ridden, depressed, and physically felt like garbage.

A lot of my issues I was able to link back to chronic inflammation and acidic body chemistry due to food intolerances. What challenges were left over I chalked up to the sexual abuse I endured between the ages of five and nine.

What I was stunned to discover was how much better I felt once I started to heal my gut and balance my hormone levels through diet and exercise. It took several years of commitment to my new habits before my health really started to turn around. I eventually became an EMT and worked the streets of Seattle for a couple of years before moving on.

Having to fight through my health issues sharpened my observation skills and made me determined to share my journey.”

Thank you Justin for sharing your insight into this unique way of helping to deal with PTSD, Depression, and overall Mental Health.  If you’d like to share your story of being a survivor, or write about any mental health topic that you are passionate about, go ahead and contact me and let’s do it!

Cold exposure therapy, or hydrotherapy, may help reduce depression, chronic fatigue, and symptoms of PTSD by directly impacting brain chemistry. This is my story of how getting comfortable with the cold helped heal my broken brain. After I tell my tale, we’ll jump into the research behind what makes hydrotherapy an effective treatment for common mental health issues. 

I Never Could Stand The Cold

Justin Faraday - Profile Bio - Guest Blogger - Surviving My Past

Justin Farady

I hated the cold growing up. It was my kryptonite. I remember trying to swim at the local indoor pool in Menominee, MI. I could stay in the water for 10 minutes max. Then I’d spend another five huddled underneath the heat lamp (they have those in Michigan) before trying to brave the water again. I was a skinny little bugger without much insulation. An underactive thyroid was also likely part of the problem. I spent the majority of my life avoiding cold water. 

Depressed and Unable To Exercise, I Was Forced To Take The Plunge

Then I decided to “teach” myself how to swim at the age of 23. I was extremely depressed and still feeling the reverberating effects of PTSD from sexual abuse. My whole life, I could never stay afloat for longer than thirty seconds, and swimming was always an uncomfortable struggle. 

As my mental health continued to flounder, my physical health was getting even worse. I couldn’t run without my knees spontaneously screaming in pain. My joints and soft tissues were inflamed and calcified, especially my spine. My shoulders were locked up and not very mobile. I ended up finding out later that I had symptoms very similar to ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a condition where the spine calcifies and fuses together. 

Craving exercise, and having no other option, I started getting up early and driving to a tiny puddle of a lake in Bellingham, WA called Toad Lake. I’d throw myself into the chilly morning waters and splash around until I figured out how to control my breathing. By the end of the summer, I was swimming back and forth across the lake! If that wasn’t shocking enough, the real surprise was the effect that the cold water had on my mental health. 

The Cold Was Like A Jolt Of Life

I started to notice how much better I felt on the days that I swam. My brain felt alive and in the moment. I felt calmer, a feeling that would last from my 9 am swim until finishing work late at night. My memory started getting better too, probably because it was so much easier to focus. I felt emboldened to speak my mind in situations where I would typically feel stifled. I started researching to see if anyone else had similar experiences with the cold. Then I discovered a man named Wim Hof.

Wim Hof and His Pioneering Cold Exposure Therapy

Wim Hof’s wife, who had been battling the onset of schizophrenia, had recently killed herself. Hof was depressed and needed to take dramatic measures to stay mentally healthy for his three children. He began experimenting with cold exposure and breathing techniques. The cold, Hof says, “is our teacher.”

Vice Magazine has an intriguing documentary on the guy that you can find on YouTube. This Scandinavian man has accomplished some stunning feats. Hof has proven that the human brain is capable of consciously controlling aspects of the autonomic nervous system, which was previously thought to be impossible. His escapades have literally forced scholars to rewrite textbooks on the topic. 

Hof’s methods are easily teachable. In one experiment, he taught his techniques to a group of new students in under five days. Then, in a laboratory setting, doctors injected Hof and the students with a strain of bacteria that should have guaranteed sickness. Neither Hof nor the students became sick. *

Hof has set records for being able to withstand cold. He has hiked well above the “death zone” of Mt. Everest in nothing more than shoes and a pair of shorts. He regularly teaches students to do the same. Hof also holds several world records for immersion in ice and is able to keep his core body temperature elevated the entire time. Hof claims that he has helped students overcome depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. 

More Research Into Cold Exposure Therapy

Myself, Wim Hof, and his students aren’t the only ones who have had positive experiences with cold exposure therapy. Hippocrates recommended hydrotherapy as a treatment for mental weakness. Germanic cultures in the 1800s used cold water immersion to treat a variety of diseases. Modern research continues to carry the torch and has made several intriguing findings. 

The cold and wetness cause the skin and blood vessels to constrict. This forces more blood to the brain and vital organs, oxygenating and rejuvenating them. When the vessels relax, the blood sweeps away waste byproducts. Think of it as an oil change for your brain and organs. 

One study found that cold exposure therapy reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are strongly linked to clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD.**

Another study determined that bathing in cold water may help normalize the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is commonly underactive in people with depression and PTSD.***

Research conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends cold showers for treating both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.****

Give Cold Exposure Therapy A Shot!

The Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends taking one or two 2-3 minute cold showers a day at 20 degrees Celsius for depression. Ease into it by spending the first five minutes gradually adjusting to a colder temperature before blasting the cold. 

Although some folks with anxiety experience a reduction in anxiety symptoms, for others, cold exposure can make anxiety worse. Thankfully, there are tons of other anxiety remediesout there including herbs like ashwagandha and alternative therapies like flotation therapy. I’ve had huge success with both of these. Thanks for hearing my story! Wishing you all the best as you strive for a healthier brain 🙂  

Author Bio:

Justin Faraday is a former EMT and massive health and nutrition enthusiast. After struggling with his health for many years, he got serious about feeling incredible. Get stellar mental health and nutrition advice at his blog, Dope.Fresh.Fit.






From The Outside Looking In: Life After The Emergency Services

September 20, 2019 • 22 Likes • 14 Comments

Kate Fletcher

Kate FletcherMarketing Manager at Mightify

Attending The Emergency Services Show in Birmingham earlier this week really struck a chord with me, which I wasn’t expecting at all. Perhaps I felt that way was because, with no background in the industry, I was able to see things from a different perspective, not tarnished with years of cynicism from a career in ‘the job’. After chatting with some serving Fire Officers about what was provided to them on exiting, I was astounded to hear that when it comes to the end of their career, they’re sat down in a room for half a day to listen to a ‘Retirement Seminar’ which focusses almost entirely on the financial aspects of ending a career. Nothing else is mentioned and no other real support is offered. My mind was blown – surely there’s something missing here?!

I’m not going to profess to be an expert in this industry at all, but after conversations like that and many others we had at the event, it’s clear that support and guidance for the practical side and the ‘next-steps’ are virtually non-existent. I also found another comment astonishing that whilst still in ‘the job’, many people become stressed-out trying to plan for and build a life outside of the emergency services once their career finishes. This shouldn’t be the case. To me, this seems absurd and it’s just not something you hear about in any other industry, it was a real eye-opener. As previously said by Mightify, professional athletes get help with this, so why don’t our emergency services personnel?

Obviously, the financial aspect of retirement is hugely important (whether that be retiring through ill-health, injury or just not wanting to continue in the job any longer) but really, it’s a tiny spec in what is a much bigger picture that just isn’t being addressed. The practical side is often completely overlooked, even though it’s the part that scares people the most – and we know that first hand from previous clients who come to us totally overwhelmed and stuck. They all have the same questions:

What’s next?

What do I do now?

Who am I now that I’ve left the emergency services?

What can I do now if all I’ve known is life in the emergency services?

I’ve never needed a CV, I don’t know how to write one and I don’t know what my skills are.

The list goes on and on.

The Emergency Services Show made me realise that Mightify absolutely needs to be the GO TO place for the practical side of the journey. We need to be part of those treatment and rehab centres, just the same as care and guidance is given for physical rehabilitation or mental rehabilitation. Careers guidance needs to be a guaranteed part of the package, because how will people fully engage in recovery if when they finish their programmes, they’re still leaving the facility not knowing what they’re going to do for the next 20-30 years? The Federations need to be looking after people whilst they are IN work and Mightify needs to be the next step of the journey in supporting people to get back into the working world if that’s what they choose to do – and more importantly – showing them that it can be done.

We’re over the moon that the conversation around wellbeing and mental health has really stepped into the limelight recently, but we’re here to shout about the huge gap that no one seems to be addressing and provide a complimentary service to all of that! Although we aren’t offering therapy or counselling, we understand that these things can be essential life lines for whichever stage of the journey one might be at. What really needs to be highlighted here, is that we should all be working together across the board, providing help at every step of the way, not segmenting these areas. Surely collaboration is the key to success? It’s simple common sense.

Published By

Kate Fletcher

Kate Fletcher

Marketing Manager at Mightify